Joda is Orissa’s ‘Bellary’, the Karnataka town that made its riches from its mineral deposits. Like in Bellary, Joda, whose mountains have some of the wealthiest deposits of iron and manganese, has seen both crippling poverty and stunning riches.
Joda is part of Keonjhar district, where 73 per cent of the population lives below poverty line, but its candidates are among the wealthiest. While sitting MLA and BJD leader Jitu Patnaik is not contesting the assembly election this time, in the 2009 polls, he was the second richest candidate in Orissa with declared assets worth Rs 105 crore.
With two of his iron ore mines closed in the aftermath of alleged irregularities in the allotment of mining blocks, Patnaik has dropped out of the race.
So this time, the contest in the mineral-rich Champua assembly segment, of which Joda is a part, is between Independent candidates Sanatan Mahakud and Kusha Apat, both school-dropouts who are among the wealthiest candidates of Orissa in the 2014 polls.
With his personal assets worth Rs 51 crore and his wife Shantilata’s worth Rs 18 crore, Mahakud has come a long way from the time he was a truck driver. Mahakud lost the 2009 assembly poll to sitting MLA Jitu Patnaik by a mere 145 votes. His rival Apat has announced assets worth Rs 8 crore and his wife’s as Rs 1.40 crore.
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“Though there are 11 candidates in Champua, it is the Mahakud-Apat fight that is the talk of the area. Each one of them is spending money on voters as if there no tomorrow. Here money speaks more than anything else,” said Bijay Ojha, a member of the Joda Truck Owners’ Association.
But for the villagers who live around mines, which were closed after the mining scandal broke out, the elections are the least of their worries. Tribal woman Budhini Munda, who lives next to the Jiling-Longolata iron ore mines of Essel Mining, said she was more worried about getting a BPL card.
“When the mines were running, we would earn Rs 40 a day loading iron ore into trucks. Without a BPL card, I have to buy rice from the market. Now my husband and I have to look for road construction work to survive,” she said. “Some people told us if we vote for the BJD, the mines would reopen,” said Munda.
On Monday, Naveen flew down to Joda to canvass for Champua assembly candidate and popular Oriya comedian Tatwa Kishore Satpathy. “Let’s make all kutcha houses pucca,” Naveen promised the crowd of around 5,000 people.
“I am sure he or someone else will come after five years to promise the same thing. Nothing would have changed and I would still be living in the same hut,” said tribal Basanti Badur, reacting to Naveen’s speech. Orissa holds simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections. While the first phase was held on April 10, the second will be held on April 17.